Physician Communication of Depression Medication During Clinical Visits

Bo Feng is an associate professor of the Department of Communication. Her research, which centers on supportive communication, was awarded an ISS Individual Research Grant in 2015. She provided this update in February 2016.

What motivated you to pursue this project?

Depression is a prevalent form of mental illness that is of major clinical and public health importance. It is estimated that, globally, more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression (World Health Organization, 2012). Due to the prevalence of depression, and to health system factors, the majority of depression treatment is delivered in primary care settings. At the same time, however, depression remains one of the most undertreated health conditions within the primary care setting. One of the factors that contribute to the undertreatment of depression is patients’ lack of adherence to prescribed treatment, especially medication.  

Many studies have shown that 40%-60% of patients with depression fail to adhere to their medication by not filling their antidepressant prescription, not taking the medication, or discontinuing the medication early without consent of their physician. When patients fail to take their depression medications as prescribed, their depression may persist or deteriorate, leading to more serious and long-lasting negative outcomes or even suicides.  

To date, researchers have identified various factors that may influence patient adherence to depression medications, including patient’s personality traits, frequency of dosing, and patient’s knowledge of depression. However, there has been relatively little research on physician communication of depression medications. Given the important role that physicians play in patient’s decision-making about health, research that fills this gap in our understanding of physician communication of depression medications is urgently needed.

How has it progressed since you received an ISS Individual Research Grant?

Since receiving the ISS Individual Research Grant, I have been working with a graduate research assistant to develop a coding scheme to analyze transcribed physician-patient conversations during clinical visits that involve the prescription of depression medication(s). We have conducted relevant literature review and are at the stage of finalizing the coding scheme.

What notable or surprising findings can you share at this point?

I do not have the findings yet, but expect to have them by the coming fall.

What is the next step?

I expect to complete data analyses by Fall 2016 and write up the results afterwards. I also plan to pursue external funding to further investigate communication factors that influence patient adherence to depression medications.

Learn more about Bo Feng at her faculty webpage.